Valve’s expansion into the living room is going into its alpha phase with the release of their SteamOS, their first batch of Steam Machine prototypes, and the Steam controller (featuring super-sensitive touchpads instead of the popular analog thumbsticks found on other controllers).
The three hundred lucky beta testers have begun to blog, vlog, and Tweet about their prototypes – but even more people are delving deep into SteamOS and analysing how much differs between the Linux and Windows versions of several games. Because Valve’s prototype tests are very limited in scope, many people are setting out to build their own Steam Machines for testing.
PC Perspective assembled their own build consisting of a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a Geforce GTX Titan graphics card, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and an ITX motherboard and chassis, to mimic the console-like aspect of Valve’s prototypes. They even compiled a very thorough and handy installation video to guide newbies into installing SteamOS onto a new hard drive.
The installer for SteamOS forces a complete hard drive format and requires access to the entire hard drive, so unless you have a spare 500GB or 1TB hard drive just laying around, dual-booting this requires a lot of time editing config files and backing up just in case something goes wrong.
The prototypes themselves are identical to the ones shown by The Verge and Engadget when Valve allowed the Steam Machines team to show off their work. Unboxing videos are to be found all over YouTube and Valve appears to have done a great job putting the prototypes together.
One aspect of the testing phase that people are seeing is that Valve initially has concentrated on getting Nvidia graphics cards working on the system, and it appears that whatever they’ve done is working tremendously well. Graphical glitches are few and the whole experience seems to be smooth overall.
In fact, preliminary testing by casual users show that games running on SteamOS handle a lot better on the system, typically posting slightly better and higher average frame rates than the same system running Windows.
However, YouTuber Corey Nelson highlighted that the Linux version of Metro: Last Light had its settings dialled back a bit in the config file, whereas on the Windows version there was a lot more scope for tweaking and putting everything at its maximum setting. When Nelson adjusted his settings to better match a Windows configuration, the two operating systems performed mostly on par.
For Valve’s first attempt, and also piggy-backing on the hard work of the Linux community, the Debian developers and Nvidia’s talented driver team, it’s a great start to what will surely allow them world domination.
More in-depth testing by Phoronix’s Michael Larabel unearthed some interesting quirks of SteamOS, one of which was a decision by Valve to ship the OS with V-Sync enabled system-wide by default.
Additionally, despite the UEFI BIOS requirement listed by Valve, it is possible to install SteamOS to an older system with an older BIOS version. In most of Phoronix’s tests against a fully patched Windows 8.1, SteamOS holds up remarkably well in the performance benchmarks.
“Overall, the SteamOS vs. Windows 8.1 results aren’t too far removed from other Linux vs. Windows NVIDIA GeForce graphics card benchmarking results delivered in the past on Phoronix,” writes Larabel on Phoronix.
“Generally the NVIDIA Linux graphics driver can deliver comparable performance to that of the Windows GeForce driver due to the largely shared code-base between platforms.”
That’s good news for anyone considering moving to the Linux platform. Because Nvidia’s improvements to their Linux driver aren’t restricted to SteamOS only, other Linux distributions benefit equally as much from Valve’s work. Its an exciting time to be a Linux gamer.